Nine tenths of the law

Bad things come in threes, that’s what they say, right? One Friday morning I woke up to a puncture, my bike alarm going wrong and a flat battery.

It was obviously not going to be a good day, I reckoned that the flat battery was probably related to the alarm fault, so in all likelihood these two incidents counted as one for the “threes” rule. I got busy with the ancestral footpump and wobbled to my workshop in a semi-inflated kind of way. The puncture wasn’t the end of the world, I needed a tyre anyway if I was to have any hope of passing the MOT, which was expiring in a few days. There was also no way the bike would pass the test without its annual wash, so I put the kettle on and dug out my gruesome collection of cleaning potions. Ten minutes later, I realised I had a dead kettle on my hands. Mishap number three. Good. “That’s that then” I thought to myself.

Only it wasn’t. Later that night some ‘orrible little ‘erberts from Sewardstone Road in Bethnal Green (note that everybody – WE KNOW WHERE THEY LIVE) decided that they liked the well ’ard street-cred look of my XT600, so they took a set of bolt croppers to my chain and rode off into the sunset.

And so it began – the depressing trip to the Police Station, the half hearted salvage of the padlock and now too-short chain from the street, the miserable calls and texts to mates “If you should happen see my bike around…” and the pointless cruise around the more scummy areas of the Isle of Dogs on the lookout for burnt or crashed remnants. You know how it is.

I had the corkscrew in the cork of the bottle of wine in which I was about to drown my sorrows, when the phone rang. Our marvellous Police force had found my bike, it had apparently been ridden straight into the back of a car in Bethnal Green and it’s rider had extricated himself and run off.

I paused long enough to grab a lid, the keys (why??) and the aforementioned short chain and rushed off to Bethnal Green, cursing an unfamiliar one way system and the slowest granny in the world who was apparently going exactly the same way in her Skoda.

I found it. Deep joy. It didn’t look too terrible either – lots of plastic damage, wiring all over the place and a few bits missing, but I’d seen worse. I ummed and erred, unsure whether to try and start it, chain it up where it was, or to try and push it away. The thief/thieves had got it a bit wrong in the hotwiring dept, they’d made a nice job of bypassing the ignition switch, and should have stopped there, but then the idiots had gone and cut the wires to the starter relay as well, which meant it would need bumping. They’d also left the wires connected so the battery had gained pancake status.

As I was peering into the depths with a torch, I heard “Oi, what are you doing with that bike?” I looked up at a lad of probably fifteen, and replied “I’m trying to start it” and carried on.

“That’s Dave’s bike.” he said

“Oh yeah? Since when?”

“That’s Dave’s bike, what are you doing?”

“Trying to start it?”

“That’s Dave’s bike”

“So you said, since when? And who’s Dave”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to start it”

We could have gone on like this for some time, but his mate arrived, and was more helpful, if less intelligent. He offered to start the bike, but as an afterthought, also asked why I wanted to start Dave’s bike.

Another bunch of boys turned up, and unbelievably I persuaded them to give me a push, intending to ride off as fast as possible at the first hint of ignition. Sadly there was no life whatsoever in the battery, and a 600 single takes a huge amount of pushing, so after a hundred yards or so they collapsed in a heap. By this time there were six of them. I was encouraging them to give it another go, when another one chimed in “She’s trying to nick Dave’s bike”. Looking back, it seems that that was the moment it all turned pear-shaped.

An older blond boy whom I suspect was Dave, came running up shouting, “you can’t take that bike – I want those handlebars – they’re Renthals”, which impressed me a bit as I’d removed the Renthal sticker when I did the fetching matt black paint job in an attempt to make my bike a bit more “no logo” and less attractive to thieves – this kid knew his stuff. I tried to get another push out of them, but by this time it obviously wasn’t going to happen.

“Dave” threatened to call the police. I agreed with him that this was probably the best course of action. He hesitated. I said, “Tell you what – I’ll call them” he said “If you call the police I’ll take your phone”.

I carry two phones. My own, which is quite nice and mine, and a work phone, which is crap and not mine. Choosing which phone to use wasn’t hard. I dialled 999 and as I said “Police” a hand tried to grab my phone, and at the same time the bike, which I was still astride, was knocked over. I kept a tight grip on the phone, but had been cut off, and was now sitting half on my bike and half underneath it, in the middle of the road. I threw a very girly punch at Dave from my prone position. Redial. Grab. Cut off again. Another girly slap. Redial.

Fortunately I was sat on a big bike, which was sprawled sideways in the middle of a very narrow street. A traffic jam was beginning to form, as nothing could get past. One or two people got out of their cars to see what was going on, and a very helpful pedestrian stopped. Nobody actually stepped in at first, they were unsure what was going on. I was slightly outnumbered – six teenagers were claiming I was stealing Dave’s bike, and I wasn’t bothering to dispute this just at the moment as I was busy on the phone, having finally got through to the old bill.

Having summoned the authorities I turned to my helper, an Asian guy in his twenties. He asked if it was my bike, I confirmed it was, and that the police were on their way. The youngsters vanished into thin air, the traffic jam began hooting and my new friend helped me up and we pushed the bike to the side of the road where I chained it to the railings until the police got there. He said he would have jumped in sooner had he realised it was my bike, but that he had thought that I was stealing it from the lads (how often do you come across a middle aged woman stealing a ratty dirt bike from a bunch of teenagers?). Quite touchingly he said that his brother was a doctor, and that he would go and get him if I was hurt. I thanked him, but declined the offer as I seemed to be in one piece, and as the sirens approached he rushed off home to watch the Rugby.

The police were great, they were apparently the same two officers who’d found the bike in the first place. They took turns to push the bike to the police station, which wasn’t easy as they’d let the tyres down when they attended the original crash. They also let me chain it up there overnight until I could get back with a van.

The bike’s safe and sound now, and back on the road with a Morris Oxford ignition switch. It appears to have been crashed twice, which was initially a bit of a mystery. Having fixed it, I can now see what had happened. The first crash had taken out the right hand side plastics, the back brake lever, and half of the front brake lever and had also put a tiny hole in the front brake line. The second (left hand side) crash had obviously been caused by the brake fluid squirting through this hole instead of going down the line and doing its stuff at the calliper end. No wonder Dave went straight into the back of a car. Plonker.


This article first appeared in issue 125 of The Rider’s Digest in February 2008

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